My son is less than two years old, but the pressure to raise a Black man in our nation’s current climate already paralyzes me with fear.
Right now, my son is the life of the party. His charisma and infectious smiles inspire reactions in the grumpiest of strangers. His cheery disposition brightens the days of so many people he comes in contact with. But I know as the years pass, in the public’s eye, he’ll transform from “such a cute little boy” to a perceived threat. My heart breaks knowing he has two options — live long enough to fulfill this prophecy, or die as a result of it.
Being a parent is a stressful yet rewarding vocation. But mixing that stress into the already back-breaking weight of systemic oppression is a deadly concoction. The Black community as a whole is under a critical mass of emotional stress. Black Americans are at a higher risk for mental health issues but substantially less likely to seek treatment. As a result, data of the effects of stress and racism on Black mental health isn’t always available. It affects the way we can bond with our children, causes us to limit their freedom, and discourages us from having conversations about mental health with them.
“The sense of community I’ve gained through their actions has given me strength when I have none.”
Discussing race can be tricky, so as a Black mother I enter friendships with white parents apprehensively. Many white parents are unaware of the additional factors Black parents have to consider when raising a child. Will our daughters be mistaken as more threatening than their white classmates? Will our sons be killed before becoming teens? Are our children being unfairly punished by the education system? And often, white parents are even less aware of the toll systemic racism has on our mental health.
Fortunately, many of my white parent friends have found a way to be allies through their parenting methods. The sense of community I’ve gained through their actions has given me strength when I have none. Those measures have been so helpful that I believe everyone should be informed and given the opportunity to make a similar impact among their groups of friends.
Here are four ways my white parent friends have proven to be allies in a non-invasive manner. Think of them as simple, initial tips to help guide your own allyship.
1. Stay informed
Seeing my white friends share commentary about issues surrounding marginalization, without needing me to provide a research starter kit, is very important. It not only reduces the emotional labor of Black parents in educating the population, but it also provides white parents with the tools and information to educate their children when the time comes.
While many white Americans show an interest in learning about the unique factors that plague Black Americans and other marginalized groups, few take the initiative to research the information themselves. The internet is so easily accessible, and relying on your Black friends to educate you on the past, present, and future of oppression in this country is problematic and inconsiderate.
That’s not to be confused with asking for clarification of your particular friend’s views on the subject. But it’s important to remember blackness — like all identities — holds a multitude of perspectives. See your friends as individuals. If your Black friends aren’t bothered by a particular social issue, it doesn’t negate another person’s struggle.
A great baseline is supporting organizations that you know are actively fighting injustice and are run by people of color. SafetyPinBox, for example, is led by Black women and provides monthly activities and readings that encourage stronger allyship.
2. Speak up about mistreatment
I met one of my closest friends, who happens to be white, via Facebook. Our initial interaction was in public, but her strong social media presence is what piqued my interest to forge a more serious relationship. I can vividly remember her posting a status about police brutality and taking a lot of flak from several of her white Facebook friends. I silently watched as she engaged, and it showed me that she would not only stand for what she believed in, but was also willing to take criticism for it.
“While the needs of each Black parent will be different, there can never be enough people to speak up for our children.”
Reflecting on that moment brings tears to my eyes. I was in a new town with minimal connections, but her presence reassured me that while she would never live my experiences as a Black parent, she was safe to talk to.
The needs of each Black parent will be different, but there can never be enough people to speak up for our children. Allyship doesn’t have to be loud and boastful. If you’re active on social media, offer in-depth explanations to your friends about why these issues matter. If you aren’t, don’t stand by as those around you make offensive, generalized comments (about any group).
Black children are especially vulnerable to injustice. If you see a Black child being mistreated or unfairly profiled, don’t just stand there. Speak up. By correcting those you come in contact with about systemic racism, it removes the responsibility from the victims and presents the information in a way the privileged person may better understand.
3. Check in
I internalize much of my stress. Instead of speaking out and seeking help, I’m prone to isolating myself from everyone I love. So, when I’m overwhelmed by the world around us, I’m more of a social recluse than what is usually characteristic of me. Several of my friends, both in real life and virtually, know the signs to look for when I’m struggling.
If you see a host of headlines in the news that affect your friends, directly or indirectly, ask them how things are going or surprise them with their favorite meal or drink. It will let them know that, in a world that feels against them, there are people who care. You don’t have to mention the specific stories or reference race at all. Just making it known that you’d check in when something is wrong can be incredibly impactful.
This particular point is one that applies to all of your friends. Parenting is hard, and if you feel your fellow parent is particularly stressed, reach out.
4. Acknowledge the power of educating your children
My Facebook feed has a handful of friends who have made it very clear that they are raising socially aware children. This is likely the most impactful way my friends and acquaintances have stepped forward to be allies.
Watching my son experience the world for the first time is the most exciting part of parenting. Seeing his blank slate filled with information each day is a constant reminder of the beautiful innocence he possesses. We all want to preserve the innocence of our children. But for many Black parents like myself, that innocence is soon disrupted by cautionary tales of the world seeing us as a threat.
“By raising socially aware children, you can ensure the next generation of white youth is working to end the prejudices that fuel our country.”
White parents need to understand that if 12 is old enough to have your life taken because you were perceived as a threat, like in the case of Tamir Rice, your child can handle being educated of the complexities of race in America. In fact, I believe that not only can they handle it, but we can also all benefit from their education.
White parents often overlook their positions of privilege. The philosophies you teach your children can change the nation. By raising socially aware children, you can ensure the next generation of white youth is working to end the prejudices that fuel our country.
Sadly, there are times this goes heartbreakingly wrong — like the dear friend I have whose son was bullied for speaking out against a “Trump club” at his elementary school. It’s scary, but if all the other parents had taken the time to educate their children, my friend’s child wouldn’t have been victimized.
Above all else, remember that your marginalized friends are individuals. Some Black parents are completely unfazed by social issues, while others experience symptoms so intense that it can be debilitating. When you think about it, the skills that make an ally through parenting are the same skills that help you raise an overall inclusive child.
Don’t educate your children for your Black friends. Educate your children because you have the desire to raise a child who leaves a positive impact on the world.